issue 167 - January 1987
Extending the cold war
The power of the media to change the political climate should not be under-rated. Take, for example, the US television companies stirring up cold-war paranoia with anti-Soviet films. Following in the profitable footsteps of right-wing movies like Rambo. Top Gun and Red Dawn, one of USA's top television networks, ABC, is producing its own cold-war entertainment The new 12-hour TV mini-series Amerika is based on life in a small Kansas town ten years after a Soviet invasion.
As the story goes, the Soviets explode several nuclear warheads over Mexican airspace, enough to blackout communications, and then invade. They are met with little opposition because 'liberal' dogooders like women's groups, unions, civil rights organizations and the peace movement have weakened the Americans and their will to resist. In the film, to be aired in the spring, the Soviets rape women, jail dissidents and set up a puppet government.
Attracted by the devalued Canadian dollar ABC crews filmed much of the movie in Toronto. Local peace groups were outraged. Some of the strongest criticism was from Performing Artists for Nuclear Disarmament (PAND). The artists' group tried to discourage actors from working on the film and demanded an end to government subsidies provided for the filming,
Many peace groups are concerned the film will damage US/Soviet relations and will escalate Cold War tensions.
Traidcraft, a company based in Gateshead in the North of England, has proved that businesses can be successful and 'put people first' - it gives Third World producers a fair price for their goods.
Traidcraft has recently offered investors shares worth a total of £1m ($1.4m). They warn potential shareholders that the issue 'should not be regarded as an investment for personal gain or profit'. Despite their warning, the first issue of shares was oversubscribed by 60 per cent. This new share issue has provided the money to meet the demands of Traidcraft's expansion, helping it to reach more people with its aim of illustrating Christian ethics and using 'practical action to create justice in trade'.
Traidcraft will only buy from those whom they are satisfied treat their workers fairly. The group producing the product must be run for the benefit of its workers, and provide them with superior wages and working conditions. Traidcraft's ultimate aim is to change the world. Operations Director Brian Hutchins comments: 'Of course we will fail. But we are trying to set an example to other Western countries of fair trade with the under-developed nations'. They argue that the millions poured into famine relief does little to help long-term change. By helping small groups of people Traidcraft hope that they are laying the groundwork for local self- sufficiency.
More information about Traidcraft products and share transfers can be obtained from Traidcraft, Kingsway, Gateshead, NEll ONE. UK
Polisario fight on
Photo: Mary Kay Magistad
Wars are costly - both in wasted human lives and in purely economic terms - as Morocco and Algeria are finding out in the Polisario Moroccan war. Both sides in the Western Sahara war insist on having total control of the area. But an economic squeeze on both Algeria - the Polisano's main backer - and Morocco may make both sides more willing to negotiate. Algeria and Morocco both find themselves in economic quicksands back home, with rising unemployment and plummeting standards of living. While each country struggles to regain a grip on its domestic economy, diplomatic sources in Algiers say they may also grow more willing to consider a compromise to end the expensive war.
As things stand both sides are at a stalemate. Morocco needs more aid to be able to wipe out the Polisario's daily snipe attacks, but has been told not to expect an increase of US military assistance above the current annual $40 million. Although France and Israel also fund Morocco, their budgets do not allow for significant aid increases either.
The Polisario are still getting 90 per cent of the food and basic supplies for their refugees from the Algerian Red Crescent, but minimal military aid. Algeria supports the Polisario's struggle ideologically and diplomatically, feeling solidarity after its own colonial war with the French almost 25 years ago. But with renewed efforts to revitalize its own economy, Algeria is cutting back on unnecessary outside spending - such as foreign aid.
Meanwhile, the Polisario, representing a people totalling less than a quarter of a million, remain fiercely committed to a goal of complete independence. Bachir Mustapha Sayed, head of the Polisario Political Party, said from the Smara refugee camp: 'We are willing to talk about co-operation, trade agreements and peaceful relations with Morocco. But we will never compromise our goal of regaining our country'.
Mary Kay Magistad
Tobacco's balance sheet
Smoking may kill but tobacco growing has long been considered a profitable activity. Recent evidence suggests, however, that tobacco makes poor economic sense for tobacco producing countries and growers. It is not a good export crop: although tobacco is grown in most Third World countries, only a few gain from it any sizable share of their foreign earnings. Three-quarters of all harvested tobacco is turned into cigarettes and smoked in the country where it is grown. Less than a quarter enters world trade and 70 per cent of all tobacco exports come from nine countries - Brazil, Bulgaria, Greece, India, Italy, Malawi, Turkey, the US and Zimbabwe.
Canada gains $3 billion annually from tobacco, according to a recent study by the University of Waterloo. But the research found that tobacco's costs - including physicians' services, hospital bills, drugs and administrative services come to $2.4 billion. To this another $1.5 billion can be added for the loss of productivity caused by smoking-related health disease. So, leaving aside environmental costs, the tobacco industry causes Canada a loss of almost $1 billion. It would be reasonable to expect that the losses of the kind that Canada is suffering will soon apply to Third World tobacco producing countries. These costs are not felt now because smoking in Canada is heavier than in the Third World and the cost of treating related disease is higher. But at the present rates of increase it will not be long before Third World countries are experiencing the same kind of losses - which they can afford even less than Canada.
There is, however, a factor in the equation which could mean that tobacco is losing Third World countries money now. With a few exceptions, tobacco productivity in the Third World is low: usually averaging a little over 1,000 kg per hectare. Yields of less than 2,000 kg per hectare are probably uneconomic, according to a report by the Economic Intelligence Unit.
For many years it has been the policy of the World Bank and the Commonwealth Development Corporation to finance tobacco projects in the Third World. This type of aid should be ended.
This is an edited version of a speech.
Cuba thrives despite blockade
Photo: Michael Ann Mullen
The US has never hesitated to use its economic muscle to penalize socialist countries. And Cuba is one of its favourite targets. In 1962 President Kennedy imposed an economic blockade: its aim - to strangle the Cuban economy. The blockade was refined and tightened in the early 1980s when the US Government decided to extend it to Nicaragua as well.
The blockade affects every aspect of Cuban life. 'El Bloqueo', explains a man outside the port of Havana where I am spending half an hour hoping to spot a free taxi. 'When the blockade ends, we'll have enough taxis', he tells me with a big smile. 'People criticise us for having rationing', explains Digna Cires Avella, a trade union official, 'but before the revolution rationing was much more extreme because most Cubans had no money'.
Rationing ensures that all Cubans have essential food and goods at a price they can afford. The high prices in the parallel market discourage Cubans from buying many consumer goods. The government needs the US dollars Cuba manages to earn to import essentials for the development of the Cuban economy: for industry, transport, health, agriculture and communications.
There is no doubt that the US blockade has slowed down Cuba's economic development and causes considerable inconvenience. But it has also protected Cuba from the onslaught of US consumer culture and values. By doing so it has provided space for Cuba to develop its own unique brand of culture - a kind of salsa socialism.
Michael Ann Mullen
Indians deceived over dam
The threat to native peoples around the world from the endless pursuit of economic growth persists; indeed, current fascination with developmental mega-projects increases the risks. The largest construction project in North America, the Limestone Dam & Power Station, is currently under way in Canada's northern Manitoba. The project is the latest in a series of hydro development initiatives which threaten the future of the province's Indian peoples.
The Chemawawin - the local Cree band - used to have a thriving economy and few social problems. Health standards were good, alcohol abuse rare, crime virtually unknown and welfare dependency insignificant. Now the Manitoba Hydro Project has made its mark. The project involved the flooding of one fifth of all Indian lands together with a further 328,000 acres traditionally used for hunting and trapping.
A new reserve, Easterville, is characterised by a pervasive sense of despair. Delinquency and alcohol abuse are widespread. In a chilling illustration of the link between the cultural and physical destruction it is reported that two thirds of the men and one-third of the women have diabetes.
The new wave of hydro projects were initiated on the Churchill and Nelson Rivers. Manitoba claimed the legal right to flood land without any prior Indian agreement. When this position was challenged, the Government adopted the strategy of denying that Indian land would be flooded. The Tritschler Commission of Inquiry subsequently exposed this tactic. They found that various officials, including State Premier Edward Schreyer, stated that flooding was not planned, knowing that what they were saying was untrue.